SALT LAKE CITY — Georges Niang turned to the bench and offered up a quick apology.
Niang had just hoisted up a deep shot that can only be described as a heat check, and he wanted to let his teammates know that it was his bad. But it was pretty easy to forgive him Saturday in Utah’s 109-96 win at Orlando because if there ever was a time Niang was worthy of heat check, it was then.
Near the beginning of the fourth quarter, Niang hit three consecutive 3-pointers in the span of 76 seconds. So when he shot a bit too quickly on the next possession, it was no problem for his Jazz teammates; they were just happy he was in that type of groove.
“He came out there and hit shots, made the right reads,” Donovan Mitchell said. “He is a guy that is not really talked about but should be. He is a guy that puts in a lot of work and we all respect him.”
Niang matched his career-high with 15 points, hitting 5-of-8 from 3-point range. He is now 12 of 22 from 3-point range in the five games since the Jazz waived Jeff Green — a move that pushed him into the regular rotation.
“I know he's confident,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "We have a ton of confidence in him, his teammates do. So that's been a point of emphasis for him if you are open — shoot it. Especially when it's going in that much you want him to keep shooting.”
Nang’s scoring surge wasn’t just for stats, either. He sparked a strong final 12 minutes for the Jazz, who went on to outscore Orlando 33-21 in the final quarter. Utah came into the fourth quarter with a one-point lead; Niang made things a bit more comfortable.
“Georges had a big run there and we were able to push the game open — Donovan as well,” Snyder said. “We have balance on our team. So it can be different guys, every night.”
It speaks to how Mitchell has been playing as of late that he wasn’t the main story coming out of the Jazz locker room on Saturday. He scored 32 points on 14-of-21 shooting, handed out six assists and hit four threes himself. Mitchell ended the first half by hitting two unguardable floaters and scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to help the Jazz (23-12) pull away for the win.
But that’s also becoming the norm for Mitchell.
“Trying to be aggressive from the jump,” Mitchell said. “Just being able to find my spots and being engaged early, but also just having teammates trust me like I always say and I think that is the biggest thing that allows me to do what I do, but also find a balance of scoring and assisting. It depends on what the defense gives me and making it easy on myself.”
The Jazz also have made plenty of shots from the perimeter, which has made getting wins a little easier. On Saturday, Utah was 16 of 40 from 3-point range; Joe Ingles hit three triples and Bojan Bogdanovic connected on two, including the game clincher late in the contest.
But for Snyder, the number of attempts were just as important as the number of makes.
“I think if you're getting looks, you just can't hesitate,” Snyder said. “Eventually you're going to make some of them, as long as we're taking good shots — which we have been. I've got confidence in guys on our team that they can make plays. Again, if the defense is solid, you give yourself a chance to to get some looks and get the ball to fall.”
And behind Rudy Gobert, who finished with 8 points and 17 rebounds, the defense was solid, especially in the fourth quarter when the Jazz held Orlando to just 21 points.
It was Utah’s fifth-straight win and its 10th in the last 11 games; they are currently the hottest team in the league. And on Saturday, no one was hotter than Niang. So much so, that he had to apologize for it.
“I just said like, ‘My bad. That was a quick one,’” Niang said. “Usually, that wouldn't be a shot that I would take.”
On Saturday, though, it was one he earned.